Drawing a clear line
Ambiguity in the execution of an administrative order for social distancing has caused confusion and complaints. Authorities have issued a business suspension order to private academies and training centers to lessen community infection. But some businesses have remained open despite the suspension.
In Seoul, only 10 percent of the more than 25,000 cram schools in the city shut their doors. Outside of neighborhoods like Daechi in southern Seoul, known for its high concentration of private academies, many have started running courses as usual. One insider said his academy cannot stay closed for long because it has to pay monthly rent and the salaries of its staff. Moreover, parents of children in their final year of high school have been demanding that the schools open their doors, he said.
The situation in Gyeonggi is no different. Nearly 23,000 academies and 10,000 sports, music and arts training centers are disgruntled by the government order that businesses exercise restraint over the next two weeks. Many of them have returned to business as they cannot afford to stay closed for longer after their "earlier voluntary suspension of business amid the quick spread of coronavirus." The central and local governments have warned of fines of up to 3 million won ($2,400) if they disobey the infection prevention regulations. But the warnings have so far had limited effects.
Few religious facilities, internet cafes, noraebang (singing rooms), and clubs across the country have followed the restraint order either. They claim that keeping their business open serves them better than paying the fines. Their complacency may stem from inconsistent political actions from the government after infection numbers surged due to followers of the Shincheonji church. Although the government has been rigorous in banning rallies held by conservative religious groups critical of the government, it has been soft on others that disobey the central and local governments' business suspension orders.
An administrative order must be executed fairly to ensure effectiveness and credibility. Many believe the action and crackdown has been selectively administered ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections. To ensure successful containment of the virus, the government must draw a clear line.